The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Careful. Your Data Is Showing …

The big conversation in marketing right now is around data.

So it should be, it’s insanely valuable and important.

But the irony is, while it can absolutely help us have deeper understanding about our audiences behaviour and habits – information that can lead to more powerful and valuable creativity – it’s alarming how many companies who claim to be experts in this field express themselves in ways that are the opposite of it.

Here are 2 ads I saw in Cannes …

Really?

You think that is going to convince people the data and technology you have is going to lead to better work?

You think that represents the language of your audience?

Sure, I know it’s Cannes and so there is a certain sort of person who is attending there at that moment – but they’re still bloody human.

Quite frankly, this is more an ad for celebrating ‘the old way’ rather than the new.

As Martin and I said in our presentation – if companies think creativity can be reduced to an engineering problem, then they don’t understand how society actually works.

Sure … you want consistency if you’re doing surgery.

Or making rockets.

Or producing food.

But society as a whole, is a mish-mash of complications and hypocrisy.

A group where their passions extend to far more than what they transact with … but how it integrates with their life.

Their fashion. Their music. Their games. Their language and imagery. Their context.

If you remove this from the process, you are simply creating the answer you want, not the answer that actually stands a chance of moving cultural behavior and attitudes for the long term, not just the short.

Or said another way, making brands successful in ways culture wants to stick with.

As I said, data has a huge and valuable role to play in all this.

I’m fortunate to have an extremely good data partner at R/GA … someone who not only knows what she’s doing, but appreciates it means nothing if it doesn’t help create better work.

And that’s the thing … great data doesn’t want the spotlight.

I see too much work where the brief seems to have been ‘show this data point’.

Or worse, too many briefs where it is the data point.

Great data – like great PR – is, in a lot of ways, invisible.

It liberates creativity rather than dictates it.

Revealing opportunities to think laterally not literally.

Helps you make work that reaches audience in more powerful ways.

Whether that’s where you play or how you play.

Put simply, data is an incredibly important part of modern marketing but – and this is where many people fall down – it can’t do it all.

It needs help to help make great work.

It can guide … it can reveal … it can lead … it can do so much, but it can’t do everything.

For data to truly show its full potential, it needs the nuances of culture added to it. Not purely for scalability, but for resonance.

As I’ve said many times, we need to stop looking to be relevant and start wanting to be resonant.

Making work that feels it was born from inside the culture, not from an observer.

Or said another way, work that doesn’t patronise, condescend or bore people.

Are you listening IBM and Neilsen?

Data with culture opens up more possibilities for creativity.

Allowing ideas to grow and go in places we might never have imagined.

Ideas that feel so right to the audience rather than explain why they should feel that way.

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April Fools Day …

Today is a great day.

Not just because it’s a day where mischief is actively celebrated, but because throughout history, there have been a number of great things that happened on this day.

For example today is the day Dan Wieden and David Kennedy officially opened W+K.

Yep, the best communication agency in history opened on this day, which means April 1 should be a day we’re all thankful for.

Then there’s the rumour that BBH started on the same day, but having heard about some Portland ad agency starting on the same day, they decided to say theirs started on the 2nd.

Again, BBH are one of the World’s best which is another reason why we should all be thanking the calendar gods for this day.

And remember, when I say ‘best’ … I don’t mean it in the past tense. Both Wieden and BBH’s brilliance is, as I wrote here, that they have been setting standards for over 30 years. Given we’re an industry that seems to celebrate ‘hype today, gone tomorrow’, that is definitely a reason to celebrate April 1st.

But it’s not all ad agency starting … there’s the fact that today is the day I wrote one of my favourite blog posts.

The one about method planning.

The one lots of planners and industry media seemed to think was real, which not only made me very, very happy … it also proved they don’t read all the way through my posts because I admitted it’s fakeness in the very last line.

So let’s acknowledge that April 1 is epic … but the reason to celebrate it today is because it’s the day the brilliant – but evil – Amelia, launches WorldWideWeird, a compendium of where culture, tech and creativity come together in the most beautifully mad ways.

There’s a bunch of reasons for this.

One is because it’s awesome.

Another is because there’s stuff going on in the shadows that deserves a much bigger audience.

But thirdly, it’s because too many agencies still fail to understand technology is a tool of creativity and in the right hands, it allows creativity to be expressed and wielded in ways traditional creativity could only dream of.

This is certainly not meant to discredit the traditional craft of communication – of course not, that can be utterly amazing in the right hands – but the reality is there are incredible possibilities when creativity is allowed to thrive outside the usual boundaries of adland and we want to celebrate those doing it … regardless of the scale, regardless if it fails and regardless if they’re just doing it for themselves.

WorldWideWeird will come out every month, but there’s an instagram that will be updated more regularly with any weird and wonderful that catches our eye … and as Amelia is the editor of it, rather than me, you can be sure it will actually be worth reading.

I’m excited what this could do … because my hope is it won’t be just be a place where people go for dinner party fodder, but a place that both inspires and scares people to get off their arses and start pushing the boundaries of what creativity can be … because frankly, as much as I love a lot of the stuff we as an industry put out there, I get quite annoyed when agencies are credited for innovation when all they’ve really done is slightly adjust the way they make the thing they’ve always made.

Sure, there is an argument that is innovative but for me, innovation is when you do something fundamentally different … try something utterly new … fail while attempting to do something groundbreaking … and I for one would like the industry to be more associated with that than simply reframing tradition with fancy PR.

That said, today is the end of my probation period at R/GA … so depending on how my review goes, World Wide Weird might be my swansong and Amelia’s platform for even greater glory.

You can subscribe to World Wide Weird here.

Our instagram can be found here.



When Marketing Goes Utterly Wank …

Look, I get the whiteboard marker business is probably low on most people’s priority.

I also appreciate that if you work in this field, you probably want to feel like you’re doing something special … different … worth while … at least on a bigger scale than simply enabling people to write/draw rubbish in boardrooms.

But – and it’s a huge but – I can’t help but think the people behind the name for this whiteboard marker have slightly lost the plot …

Friendly?

Chisel?

Are they stark raving mad?

I swear to god you would have to be the most coke-snorting maniac to come up with those names.

What’s so friendly about this marker?

Does it do the writing for you?

Does it make your scrawl suddenly look neat?

Do other whiteboard manufacturers make their product hold a knife against your throat?

As for chisel?

A tool designed to hit things that will leave their mark in stone forever is literally the opposite to a whiteboard marker in almost everyway.

Where did that come from?

Did they want to big-up their role and significance or is it their way to add a psychological element to their product in the hope it makes the middle management who use it think their scribblings is the second coming of christ?

I’d respect them more if they named it, ‘A RED PEN FOR BAD MEETINGS’.

Or even ‘THE LOOK LIKE YOU’RE CONTRIBUTING WITHOUT CONTRIBUTING PEN’ …

But a friendly chisel?

Talk about an oxymoron.

Chisel’s aren’t friendly. You have to hit them to make them do anything.

Calling it a ‘stupid chisel’ might be more appropriate which is why the name of this bloody whiteboard pen has depressed me more than being invited to a 6 hour ‘brainstorm’ led by a middle manager who thinks leading a discussion that no one will pay any attention to is a demonstration of their emerging power and influence.

And no, I am not going over-the-top over this issue one little bit.

Ahem.



Childhood Happiness …

My son.

My cat.

A semi-tidy/messy bedroom.

Colour. Toys. Posters and Paintings.

Books to Dolls houses to Magnetic Blocks.

This photo makes me so very, very happy.

Not just because of Otis and Rosie – though obviously that is great – but as childhood photos go, I can’t help but feel this is how it should be.

Now, of course, this ‘look’ – excluding my son and cat – is often the sort of thing you also find inside ad agencies.

I remember an old boss telling me that when he took his kids to the office, they asked where the other kids were, because they thought it was just like their bedrooms.

And while it is easy to write this design approach as superficial or childish – I genuinely believe it can make a difference.

Being surrounded by an environment that celebrates and provokes creativity can only be a good thing, especially if you are paid to think creatively – however, like raising a child, it only works if that extends to what you expect from the people within it.

Frankly, if you create a creative environment you have to let them be creative.

You can’t do that and then create systems and processes that push people to conform to rules.

Creative culture can absolutely be aided by the environment you surround people with, but the reality is it’s ultimately driven by having a culture of freedom and encouragement, which is why it seems to me the nice environments of many agencies are more about the illusion of creativity rather than the celebration, inspiration and ignition of it.

Kinda like what I told Campaign magazine a few years ago …



What If We’re Wrong …

One of the things that bothers me is how data [in marketing] has become law.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of data – or should I say, real data that has been amassed properly, read properly and used properly – but a lot of the stuff today is nothing more than small bits of information packaged to be big bits of information.

Worse, a lot of it has no texture whatsoever … designed to reinforce a position someone wants rather than to inform and enlighten on things you don’t know but would like to find out.

But even then, data is not infallible.

There, I said it.

Data is as good as the people who created it.

And yet day after day, I read about companies who treat their data like its god … even though you can see the flaws in their approach from 10,000 miles away.

From what they’re trying to discover.

To how they’re trying to discover it.

To what they want to do with it once they’ve got it.

No surprise then that so many then go on to report ‘lower than expected’ revenues.

I’m lucky that I work at a place with a progressive view of data, especially with the way we use our Ventures program.

But in addition to that, I work with an amazing data specialist.

She’s cheeky sod who is a bloody legend.

Not just for what she does but for what she pushes.

A believer in the role of culture not just habits.

But another part of her skill is that she knows what data does and what data doesn’t.

Data guides.

It heavily suggests.

It shines a light on important and essential behaviours.

It forces discussions about how best to approach situations.

But it rarely is undisputed, unquestionable, always certain, fact.

To be honest, I believe most people in the marketing field of data knows this but – as is the case with most things in marketing – we go around talking in certainties in an attempt to raise our professional standing when all it does is the opposite.

Hey, I get it, we see it being done in so many fields – from government to finance – but that still doesn’t mean it makes people believe what we’re saying, it just makes us complicit.

The reality is society is far smarter than we give them credit for. The only reason they let so much of this rubbish pass is because they literally don’t care what we say. They have seen so many facts that turned into fiction that they view what we do as literally a game … which is why, while data and strategy still play an important part in making creativity that helps brands move forward, the most powerful differentiator between ideas that culture sees and culture give a shit about is how interesting, intriguing and exciting it is.



Speed Is Status …

Just before Christmas, an engineer put out a Youtube video of his brilliant payback on people who stole Amazon packages from his doorstep.

It’s funny, evil-genius and a celebration of the creativity in engineering.

Anyway, I woke up about 7 hours after he had put it out and said how this was now a creative goal for me at R/GA.

Unsurprisingly I got a lot of positive comments on the film, but there were more than a few that talked about how they loved it when they had seen it earlier.

While it might seen an innocuous comment, saying ‘they’d seen it earlier’ feels like an attempt to suggest they are ‘better’ than me … more in tune than me … more connected than me.

Now the reality is they probably are better than me on all those things, but given the video came out only a few hours after I woke up, it’s not like I am years out-the-loop, despite what this blog may suggest.

I find it interesting because whereas once status was measured in terms of how much money someone had … now it seems to be about how fast we know or have seen things. It’s probably always been that way given I remember how we used to talk about bands in terms of how long we had liked them before they had got popular, but watching people try to elevate their status [in a way that lowers someone else’s] based on seeing a Youtube video 2 hours before someone else feels like social currency is now more valuable to people than actual currency.

Mind you, given the impending disaster that is BREXIT, that is probably the only way we will be able to pay for our groceries soon.



Don’t Blame The Insight, Blame The Person Claiming It …

So a few weeks ago, the very lovely Neil – of Only Dead Fish fame – invited me to talk at Google Firestarters on insights.

This is a subject I’ve written and talked about for years, so it was right up my alley … and yet, despite that, I ended up writing a presentation where the underlying insight appears to be, ‘don’t ask Rob to write presentations on insights’.

For reasons I’m unsure of [though I think ‘fill this blog with something before the end of the year’] I thought it might be good to put it up here for others to look at/abuse. However, as it’s my usual ‘picture, no words’ presentation style, it probably will make little sense … but if it’s any consolation, that’s how the people who heard me give it, thought too.

If you want the general theme of the deck, it’s insights are important because culture is important … and if you know how the culture around categories think, act, operate and interact, then you have information that not only lets you create work that feels born from inside the culture, but can open doors to new possibilities.

Oh, and the bit about the Titanic is that I’m amazed this discussion is still going on because we all know insights matter, it’s where we’re getting them from and how we’re using them that is key. And yet – as an industry – we like to debate the things that we know matter and ignore the fact the majority of the work that’s being put out is an exercise in how to bore the fuck out of everyone with insanely and inanely rational communication.

And yes, I blame clients as much as planners and agencies for this.

It’s like they have forgotten that no one cares about what they care about and the job is to make them give a damn – and the most powerful way to do that is to use creativity in wonderfully mad and chaotic ways because [as Mr Weigel says, both in public and in my presentation] you can be as relevant as hell and still be boring as fuck.

The Henry Ford slag off is simply that he is well known for saying that if he’d asked people what they wanted they’d say a faster horse and my point is, if someone said that, any half decent planner should be able to workout they’re trying to say they want to get from point A to point B quicker than they currently are able.

And if that isn’t an amazing brief, then I don’t know what is.

Anyway, if you want to see the deck, including one of my favorite ever slides – the pic at the top of this post – click here: Firestarters

Enjoy … if that is the right word. Ahem.